Saturday, October 18, 2014

On Ebola, Jingoism and Being Lucky

This beautiful Puerto Rican girl in tight white spandex and a push-up bra sits me down and starts chopping my hair:
"Girlfriend," she says, "what the hell you got growing outta your head there, what is that, hair implants?
Yuck, you want me to touch that shit, whadya got in there, sandwiches?" - "Bad Day at the Beauty Salon" Maggie Estep, Slam Poet

Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it’s not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia. - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on ABC's "Q and A", April 5, 2010
On 3rd and 60th
"I want him to be eaten by dogs. Maybe twenty dogs, all hungry. And I want to watch with 200 people like they watched when they ate his uncle, Jang Song-Thaek. I thought he gone. Sick man.  Fat. Maybe already dogs ate him. But no, he come back. Is alive."

This from my hairdresser who I will call Lily Pond. All the stylists at my hair salon have Chinese-sounding salon names. Like  "Lotus River", "Flower Petal", "Dawning Day".

I suppose having made-up salon names offers  privacy, in a similar way that Facebook profile names are sometimes used to disguise identities and to put across an image. Like sexy_girl345 or AussieFromOzland, or Liifesiize Barbiie Dubsetep Alcoholiic Raver (sic).

But back to Lily Pond's dog eating comments. She was of course referring to North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

The monologue continued. "They show no respect. Boy has uncle. No like uncle. Not like uncle, OK. But he should respect uncle who is older. Not feed him to dogs. Not 200 people watch."

I love New York. If ever I am feeling lonely I just go to the hairdressers. There is always something happening and people to talk to. Or listen to. And watch.

While Lily Pond was cutting away, another client walked up to the counter and plonked her two year-old son right on top of it. "Look!" she screamed. "His bangs are too short! What are you going to do about it?" Meandering Stream at reception was speechless. Was she meant to perform miracles and reverse time itself? She started tugging that the child's bangs, then ruffling them, applying gel. She was helpless. Meanwhile Lily Pond was looking and listening. "I think $20 discount make boy hair grow and mother happy," she sneered.

And so it was settled. The complaining woman managed to get her toddler's hair cut for a mere  $5.  I was beginning to despair of humanity. Truth was, I hadn't gone to the hair salon just for company. I'd had to get away from some Australians.

I'd been home reading Facebook comments posted by some ugly Australians on an Aussie Expats group - and yes we have some - ugly ones, that is.

"Don't send money to those warlords, murderers and rapists!" commented one compassionate soul, on the subject of aid being sent to the people fighting Ebola in West Africa.

"Let's not help them because we are only helping them because a couple of people in America caught Ebola," posted another. On and on. While most of us replied asking for some humanity and compassion,  it was becoming increasingly obvious that it was  pointless to answer the irate, "let them eat cake" types.

I moved  to another thread on whether Australians are racist, which had been prompted by the publication of  an Australian government controversial anti-immigration advertisement aimed at discouraging asylum seekers from travelling to the country illegally. The poster is titled "No Way" and the tagline reads: "You will not make Australia Home. "If you get on a boat without a visa, you will not end up in Australia. Any vessel seeking to illegally enter Australia will be intercepted and safely removed beyond Australian waters."

The Facebook  discussions were going everywhere. From whether it was provocative to drape yourself in the Australian flag and jump up and down in front of Lebanese migrants at Cronulla, calling them Lebbo bludgers, to how ignorant Americans are because they have never heard of failed early Australian explorers Burke and Wills.

I'd had enough of Australian complacency and false pride All too shocking to read. I walked away from Facebook.

And picked up my Kindle - I am reading Australian writer - Christos Tsiolkas's novel 'Barracuda'.

The protagonist's Scottish boyfriend Clyde is talking about Australia and why he doesn't want to stay there. "I want to be somewhere where people aren't perpetually banging on about mortgage rates and refugees and blackfellas and how fucking great this country is, how lucky I am to be here in the luckiest country on earth. I don't want to be told how lucky I am, I want to feel lucky. I want to be home."

I closed the Kindle. I too had no time for that brand of Australian. I decided a haircut was in order.

Something nice. A pleasantness. I needed to  get away from the jingoists.

I walked two blocks to Third Avenue to the hair salon talk about Kim Jong-un being eaten by 200 dogs.

Life is indeed wonderful.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Ripped Apart By Sunshine

I'm ripped apart by sunshine
I'm ecstatic
I'm leaping
I'm cutting off all my limbs
I'm doing circus tricks with forks. - "Happy" Maggie Estep, slam poet, 2013

First Avenue Billboard, 2014
"That thing! I opened the laundry bag myself. It was old and very ugly. I think to myself, who is person own this rubbish. You should be glad we lost it! You should be saying thank you to me and not come into my store with complaint."

I stood speechless. I had walked to the dry-cleaners after discovering that instead of my lovely one-of-a-kind top, made of three different colored and textured fabrics, that I'd bought at an up-scale craft fair near Columbus Circle, my beautiful long-sleeved top, had been swapped out for a flimsy short sleeved piece of hippy muslin rag.

But the dry-cleaner woman wasn't finished with me yet. "Maybe other lady bring it back. Maybe you happy to have your rubbish return."

There's nothing like bad New York customer service when it's bad. No half-measures in this city.

There was no point in arguing. I was remembering a Seinfeld episode where Jerry gets the wrong jacket back, and someone explains to him that it is a New York custom - that if you get someone else's clothes then you should just accept it; it all works out in the end. You win some and lose some. But I wasn't going to take it lying down.

As Ms Dry-Cleaner turned her back on me I found my voice back. "That is so silly!" I said. Loudly.

She jumped, startled that I had spoken. "You give me big fright. Why you talk so loud? I think I sue you. I might have heart attack. Go. Go. Leave my store. You standing there give my business bad name. I lose money because you have bad clothes. I sue."

Being a seasoned New Yorker, I know when I am beat. I crossed the street and headed off for home. And then turned back. I needed to cheer myself up. A mani-pedi was in order.

I've been going to the same nail salon for years. There's something comforting about being in a room full of people who look like me, being attended to by people who talk to each other in Korean.  Total non-communication. Almost a zen thing.

I was at the manicure table, reading.  My mind transported to a POW camp in Thailand in WWII.  Australian soldiers being tortured by Japanese, dying by the thousands, building a railway that was planned to run from Singapore to what was then Burma. Short-listed for the Booker, Tasmanian writer Richard Flanagan's "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" prose is brilliantly evocative. My mind was a thousand miles away, in another country in another age.

I screamed. I wasn't in Thailand, and it wasn't 1942. The person holding my hand wasn't even Japanese. She had chopped off the top of my little finger. The pinky, as Americans like to call it.

There was blood everywhere. Someone else screamed. The manager of the place was screaming as she squirted some blue liqid onto the wound. The blood kept coming. I held my hand up high, so it was above my heart. Red dots stood out starkly on the paper mat where my right hand still rested.

The other patrons were looking decidedly nervous. On the muted  TV, the closed captions were explaining how viruses were transmitted. Doctors dressed like astronauts  were walking towards a disposal van.

I noticed my assailant was not wearing gloves. The red blotches on the white paper were growing. I tried to put my shoes back on, kicking off the cotton wool between my toes.

"Oh no, is not dry!" screamed Ms Nail-Place-Manager. "I don't care," I told her. "I have to go to the emergency room! I think I need a stitch. What a way to spend my Saturday night. Why do I care about my toenails?"

"There's a good walk-in clinic on 86th, one of the nervous-looking customers offered. "Yes I have been there," volunteered another. And in the way of New Yorkers - seizing any opportunity to talk about themselves to complete strangers, a conversation was started. And I was forgotten.

Somewhere out of nowhere, one of the nearby  fast food "Subway" guys was holding out a bottle of water. I thanked him. The world was starting to spin. There were band-aids upon band-aids, a veritable tower of them, on the end of my finger. I could still see blood seeping through but the flow had stopped.

I left the salon and the chatting women. I sat down on a plastic chair at the "Subway" fast food place. A man outside was begging. He only had one arm. He'd left the other one behind in Iraq. I remembered the Australian POWs tortured in Thailand.

I had it good. I should be so happy.

Friday, September 12, 2014

That's What Friends Are For

Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief
Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief
Saying, "Tell me great hero, but please make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?" - "Tombstone Blues", Bob Dylan, 1965

Keep smiling, keep shining
Knowing you can always count on me, for sure
That's what friends are for
For good times and bad times
I'll be on your side forever more
That's what friends are for   - "That's What Friends Are For", Bacharach and Bayer Sager, 1982

Police Discreetly On Patrol at Strawberry Fields 9-10-14
It was like something out of a Ruth Rendell novel. Or perhaps, being in New York, out of a Patricia Highsmith novel.

The take-out  leftovers were piling up in my kitchen.  Bits of quesadillas, beef sandwiches, rice-puddings liquefied and bleeding into half eaten bagels. Revolting. The pile grew higher and higher.

It was the Labor Day weekend, and all my good friends were out of town, interstate, or in Australia.  I was very ill with  severe bronchitis and just had to wait it out. I was existing on food I had ordered in. I couldn't even make it to the compacter room to throw out the mounting pile of garbage.

I emailed my kids, telling them where my will was, and about sundry bank accounts. I was as cold as ice.

When I went to the bathroom I took my cell phone with me, worried should I pass out. And also in the misguided hope that someone in New York would call. Silence. 

I lived like that for five whole days and nights - not seeing a living soul. But thanks to email and Facebook I was not completely incommunicado. Thank you A, E, J and B. You helped me pull through. And of course thank you to the "Seamless" app, and to the delivery guys who brought me my food.

It made me wonder. What was I doing here in the  Big Apple?

When the chips are down, well - the chips are down.

But of course it is not all bad, and this week I smiled, as I was riding the Q60 bus home from work. on the 13th anniversary of 9-11. As the bus was crossing the Ed Koch  Bridge I looked out to my left at our  Freedom Tower. The way the setting sun struck it, it seemed as if something was sticking out if it.

"Look," I interrupted my companion who was in full-flight talking about his day, "there is something sticking out of the Freedom Tower!"  He glanced briefly across the river. "Oh don't worry about it," he answered before continuing with his  New York style monologue. "It is probably just a plane."

From My Office Window 9-11-2001
I just love the New York humor. The five horrible days forgotten, I posted on Facebook about it.  And also this photo on the left, taken from my office window on 9-11.

Now one would think - me being a New Yorker and all - that would be that. And it was, for a while. "I didn't realize you were so close," commented one friend. "Wow!" said another.

But then came what I should have expected - the anti-American crap. "What about Allende and Chile? They had a 9-11 too."

As my good friend A replied, "To bring up another event is like going to someone's funeral and going on and on about another death. Just not done in polite company".

Those PC people. Blinkered. It's like you can't say anything about radical Muslims without the bleating of, "There are bad Jews and Christians as well."

Oh sure! Whatever. We all know that not all Muslims are terrorists. But it just so happens, that most  21st century terrorists are Muslim. And in any case I had not even mentioned Muslims - just posted about it being 9-11. But the mere mention of 9-11 is enough to set some people off.

Dredging up the past. Going back over a thousand years to minimize an event that affected me and millions of other New Yorkers.

On and on. You even get,  "What about the Crusades?"

Seriously? What about them?  Let's dredge up Robin Hood? Or Tutankhamen?

Yeah, what about Chile forty years ago, and the Crusades nearly a thousand years ago?  And yes, Israelis shouldn't throw Palestinians and out of their homes on the West Bank. And the British killed the aborigines in Tasmania. And the mid nineteenth century potato famine in Ireland. My god!

But none of this has anything to do with the slaughter of my fellow countrymen in my city on 9-11-2001.

Lest we forget.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What a Wonderful World

But I do know, one and one is two
And if this one could be with you
What a wonderful world this would be - "Wonderful World", Sam Cooke 1960
I hear babies cryin'.
I watch them grow.
They'll learn much more than I'll ever know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world - "What a Wonderful World", Thiele and Weiss 1967
Child Being Tagged by OZ Immigration
Photo courtesy Asylum Seeker Resource Center
In the beautiful Indonesian island of Bali, children are named according to their birth order. The firstborn is "Wayan", the second is "Made" pronounced Marday, the third is "Nyoman", and the fourth is "Ketut". And if a couple has more than four children, well they just start again from the beginning.

I used to vacation at Bali in the 1980s, and remember a German couple, commenting to a Balinese woman who was explaining the practice,  "We don't give our children numbers in Germany."

Back in Melbourne I related the Germans' comment to my mother, who answered in her typical caustic style, "Oh really? Haven't they heard of Auschwitch?" Sitting in her North Brighton flat, we sneered at the sneering German couple.

My mother has long "gone to god", and I am glad she didn't live to see the day when the Australian government started to "number" children. Dehumanizing them. Locking them up.

In its paranoia about a few hundred "boat children" - refugees mainly from Sri Lanka, Iraq and Afghanistan- the Australian  government has a policy of not allowing asylum seekers even to step foot on mainland Australian soil.

After  horrific journeys across the Indian Ocean,  the over-crowded and unsafe ships carrying them are intercepted. The would-be immigrants are tagged,  numbered and "processed" off-shore.  Sent off to camps.

Down Town Manhattan,  May Day 2010
Less than 20,000 "boat people" arrive in Australia every year (Ten myths around asylum seekers arriving on boats in Australian waters ).  Less than a quarter of the audience capacity at Melbourne's main sporting venue, the MCG

Of course the majority of  Australia's "illegal immigrants" are white, European and arrive by plane.

In America we refer refugees who haven't been "processed" as "undocumented immigrants". In many states undocumented immigrants are able to  hold drivers' licenses, attend university, get jobs.

In 2010 there was a furor when the State of Arizona passed a bill allowing police to ask people for their papers if they suspected them of being illegal immigrants. 

After the "Reform Immigration" demo, NYC May 2010
I went along to the New York City demo protesting the Arizona bill. I think there were more people demonstrating across America, than the total of "boat people" trying to get into Australia in one year.

Ironically, modern-day Australia was founded by "boat people". They came from the United Kingdom and they booted out or murdered the indigenous inhabitants.  At first most arrivals were criminals, and later there were economic refugees from rural England and Ireland.  So soon we humans forget...

I know many Australians object to the new boat people who live in detention centres off-shore - yes the Australian government outsources detention centers - as queue jumpers.

I have only one thing to say to such people.

What bloody queue?